Been holding this one back until Scott reviewed the famous Mid South episode with Ted Dibiase challenging for the NWA world heavyweight championship. Mid South Moments is a podcast presented by fellow Brit Dan Phillips and after getting Erik Watts on before he managed to get him back with his legendary father Cowboy Bill Watts, who’s 82 and the main man behind the classic angle, to talk about the November 9th of 1985 episode. Review below the line.
(One of these men is not like the others…)
“I’m still on the right side of the dirt, but some days I feel like I’m slipping!” – Cowboy on how he’s doing today.
Going back to the time, Bill didn’t worry about the WWF and Jim Crockett going national while reminding Dan that his shows always beat the opposition shows in his own area.
Cowboy talks about how he could about a year out of a booker, including himself, and credits Bill Dundee as the booker he made the most money with, half-telling the famous “Where are all the blow jobs?” story when Jerry Lawler and Jarrett came in to evaluate his area when it was going flat before, leading to him bringing in Dundee, Morton, Gibson, Eaton, Condrey and Cornette to explode the area. Other bookers he used included Ernie Ladd and Buck Robley, plus Jim Ross was a constant source of feedback.
As Oklahoma was an oil state, and it went bust, the subsequent impact of that was people being unwilling to spend on entertainment, be it wrestling or prostitutes, so he was entering a rough period by the end of the year.
Dan brings up the deal that Bill had with Ted Turner to get on TBS, which Jim Crockett undermined and got in place of Watts. That could’ve been a launchpad for Mid South going national as the fans loved the show. Watts tried to implement a bit of what Mid South had when he made Ron Simmons world champion in ’92, but it didn’t work.
Watts was a fan of smaller promotions existing because it gave you a fresh talent pool, which he reminded Vince of when he worked for him in ’95.
Moving onto the show, the big angle from the week prior was Butch Reed getting spike piledriven by Ric Flair and Dick Slater. Watts doesn’t remember the underneath angle of Jim Duggan avenging his girlfriend (now wife) against Buzz Sawyer, but he’s keen to talk about how Dick Murdoch’s initial punch on Dibiase is far better than anything you’d see today, which it’s hard to argue with.
Watts loved Murdoch and liked Slater until he started impersonating Terry Funk too much. Dibiase (who Watts still misses the last syllable off his name) was a guy he thought could make ANY match with how good he was.
Cowboy didn’t believe in holding back, hence Reed beating Flair in a non-title match on TV to build towards a potential future title match.
Watts also loved Reed and eulogises him, talking about how they kept up with one another until the latter’s death, which he is sad about. He’s trying to get hold of Jim Duggan, who’s just gone through major surgery, to check that he’s OK. Ernie Ladd’s death was the one that most affected him because he learnt so much from him about his life experiences. He could understand why guys like him and Thunderbolt Patterson couldn’t trust anyone.
JYD gets brought up, with Watts referring to how he was introduced to him by “Grizz’s son”, which is probably the most civil he’ll ever get about Jake Roberts.
Phillips laments the lack of stuff that’s been preserved from the seventies. Watts talks about his links with the Funk brothers, plus Dory Sr., who was a character. He’s kept up with Terry too, who’s in a nursing home now as a result of his dementia.
Mid South was not an NWA member, but Bill was able to talk Sam Muchnick into letting him book the world champion because it only gave the Alliance stronger credence.
After twenty minutes, Erik gets a chance to speak. He analyses the fan’s perspective of how it’s now a legendary show, but at the time it was a case of every week there was something strong. Stuff like Steve Williams just coming out to check on Ted, but not getting into something with Murdoch or Flair, showed good restraint because if they did something there it would’ve diluted the quality.
Erik recalls a later story of going to a WWE event and getting pulled aside by Shawn Michaels, who was looking for old footage of when he was a jobber for Mid South because he wanted to show some of his original matches to his kids. When he got it, he realised that he was just getting steamrolled by the heels without getting a single shot in, but took an awesome beating.
Erik disputes Mid South being a promotion of tough guys and monsters, because they used guys like Shawn and Randy Savage in their early days and they went on to be the biggest stars. He also loved everyone working together without ego, as compared to WCW, where everyone would angle to get everything changed in their favour in the late nineties.
Dan talks about how AEW have also gotten into the good habit of putting the world championship match first so that it got the maximum TV time it could. Ted and Dick were heel and face respectively, but switched places before the end of the show. Flair got to get an awesome sarcastic line about the “terrible tragedy”, punctuated with a woo.
Savio Vega’s early days appearance as El Corsario gets brought up. Erik never got to see him without the mask on at the time, nor would he see most masked men without their masks. Mr. Wrestling II had an alternate mask without a chin so that he could go out and eat at a restaurant with it on.
Bill laughs about how Ted had a blade ready to gig himself after being thrown into the post, but the post itself bust him open, yet he still gigged himself after to the point of needing stitches in his disorientation.
Jim Ross and Joel Watts were on commentary for this episode, but Bill made a cameo to report on Ted’s condition after the attack and injury to give it credibility, throwing in the anecdote about how Roberto Duran backed out of his match at the Superdome because of a stomach sickness “which made ME sick to MY stomach!” to give Ted extra plaudits.
Erik gets a laugh out of Bill’s very specific “arterial damage” part of the report and how he sold it on the “You might not want your children to watch this with how bloody it could be” disclaimer. Raven said to him later that he got lost in that match when he watched it as a fan.
The legend of Jim Ross is brought up, with Bill talking about how he taught him the business from the ground up and made him study Gordon Solie, who he was the spiritual successor of.
Watts can’t recall how the impetus came about to turn Dibiase (and Williams by extension), but Erik talks about how the fans turned him face with their reaction to his courage. The story of how either he or Paul Orndorff had done an angle years earlier where one or the other had turned, but the tape hadn’t gotten round to one of the towns, so they had to do a face match and expected it to fall as flat as a pancake, but Bill challenged them to go the hour and they succeeded just to spite him out of frustration.
Sting said to Bill that the business had changed when he went to WCW in ’92, which Watts agreed on, because gone were the days where fans really believed it. He recalled doing a racial angle in the sixties in Washington against Bobo Brazil and getting piss poured on him from buckets by the fans and having to escape the arena and hide in a nearby petrol station until the riot had passed. Erik brings a little levity by saying that by the time he was in the business then he was getting so wasted that he just pissed his own pants.
Cowboy definitely believes that pro wrestling should have retained some reality. He knew it was a work when he was an amateur, just not how much, but it didn’t stop stuff like the above. The fans, if interviewed, would admit they knew it was a work “but when X and Y wrestle, THAT’S real!”. He didn’t want riots day in and day out with the injuries that came, including getting stabbed himself by an old lady with a pen in the leg, but just something believable. Erik himself has had a few cigarettes thrown on him that stuck to his back with the sweat and burned him.
Cowboy’s ill-fated WCW run, with no mats or moves off the top ropes plus stricter kayfabe, pissed off the boys as well as the fans. Erik brings up a Will Smith story about him getting too involved in one of his roles one time and how the wrestlers were also getting artificially made tense too. I’d say that the proof of the pudding was in the eating and the spitting out, but can’t fault the idea.
Erik reveals how back in the day that anyone who wanted to get in and was brash about it would be brought to the ring and one of the tougher guys would dress up as a janitor and heckle them about how they couldn’t beat anyone. When they went “Oh yeah?” and challenged him he’d come in and wipe the floor with them. Erik and Bill eventually recall it was Gordon Nelson and joke about how he was “the only janitor who when he took off his overalls had an all over tan!”.
Bill was late for a training session one day that Danny Hodge took over on. A trainee went to gouge Hodge’s eye, so Hodge reacted and broke his arm in two places. The trainee went to Watts and asked who was going to pay for his arm, so Watts reminded him he had a magic mirror at home that he should ask “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the dumb-ass who’s gonna have to pay for this all?”.
Back to the match, the finish came when Ted went for the figure four but got bounced out and hit his head on the guard rail. Murdoch returned afterwards to add the finishing touch, specifically the brainbuster on the floor. Dan compares the double turn positively to the Bret Hart/Steve Austin double turn twelves years later.
Dibiase was heading off to All Japan for a month, hence being written out so that he could come back later. Watts can’t recall whether Flair and Dibiase were due to have any rematches and explains that’s why he has Erik with him to recall the details. Dan hypothesises that the Watts/Crockett tension affected that. Watts tells the story of how Vince Sr. used his smoothness in the opposite, more positive way when he needed Waldo Von Erich to come up and let Watts keep Andre the Giant longer as a thank you to keep everyone happy.
Vince Jr. was in a make it or break it situation with the first WrestleMania because of how much he put into it. He made it, but after that he was out to conquer the world instead of working with everyone else. Dan compares the difference between the quality of the Mid South shows to the WWF shows, which were heavy on production, entrances and not as much on work rate.
Watts didn’t believe in unnecessary excessive, because it hurt the product overall. The psychology was better as a result of working within limits. This led to wrestlers being able to have longer careers, with Watts citing how long Shawn Michaels was able to wrestle for as a result, including his match against the Undertaker, which he loved.
Erik met some AEW guys recently and spoke carny to them, which none of them got, with DDP adding that nobody knows how to any more. This to him was a sign of another part of the business dying.
Back to the show, Dan talks about the use of music and music videos. Bill picked that up from Memphis, where Jimmy Hart had been responsible for getting them into the use of music but also via writing some original songs. Bill just used pop songs of the time and had ASCAP ringing him up. After hanging up on them twice he spoke to his lawyer who worked out a deal with them for a nominal fee.
The editing of film back in Florida was incredibly difficult, so guys like Joel Watts and Gordon Solie’s son had their work cut out for them. Watts cites his match on YouTube with Jack Brisco as a version of that.
Bill admits that the competition to win a copy of Eddie Gilbert’s portrait was not a mailing list drive because they hadn’t gotten themselves that far forward yet compared to Vince.
Joel Watts is complimented for delivering a sincere epilogue over footage of Dibiase being carried out and being treated. They left it open-ended as far as what would happen with Murdoch regarding fines. Dan looks ahead to the Christmas Day build for the eventual Dibiase/Murdoch match. Watts is flattered by how knowledgeable the fans are and how much they love the shows.
Dan asks if there was one decision Watts made that he wishes now he’d gone the other way with. Cowboy gets a little bit religious about how he was flawed as far as being prideful at times. He talks about the difference between respect and love and how his marriage failing was the biggest thing he wished he could have another shot at.
Erik talks about booking a promotion twenty years ago and tried to remember that attendance and money made should be his main motivators. As soon as he started second-guessing things people could see it.
Erik was asked to be a stuntman on The Wrestler, which he enjoyed and liked Mickey Rourke. Bill met Mickey at WrestleMania and Mickey asked if he could wear his hat, which Bill told him to do one on regardless of whether he was the biggest star there or not.
Bill ends by recalling British wrestlers that he liked. He also recalls how nothing that he did was written down and he established an atmosphere where nobody could connive their way out of losing. Final bit before Dan thanks them for talking to him is his marveling at technology allowing them to talk to one another, because normally he spends most of his time cursing at it not doing what it should do.
Melting it down: Nothing groundbreaking, but nice to hear Bill still has his wits about him and Erik was able to add in some interesting tidbits too.